Fighting Climate Change in the Courts
Kivalina is a tiny Inupiat Eskimo village built on a barrier island above the Arctic Circle. Sea ice used to protect the island from winter winds, but now that sea ice is gone and the island is eroding. The Kivalina blame global warming – specifically, a couple dozen oil and utility companies, including Exxon Mobile and Shell Oil. They have filed a lawsuit seeking $400 million from those companies to relocate their village to the mainland.
The New York Times is reporting that major lawsuits filed by environmental groups and states against polluters are on the rise. Their report points to two other lawsuits, similar to Kivalina, which recently earned some preliminary victories and may indicate a growing trend.
The other two lawsuits – one in which attorneys general of eight states and the City of New York seek to obtain a court order to reduce gas emissions, and one in which Mississippi home owners claim that greenhouse gases contributed to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina – recently had federal appeals courts reverse district court dismissals, allowing both cases to proceed.
In the case of the Kivalina suit, a California federal judge rejected it, but the Kivalina residents have filed an appeal.
Legal experts are drawing some parallels between these lawsuits and those brought against big tobacco companies, which of course led to major settlements and increased regulations for the industry. But there are also concerns among environmental groups that leaving climate change-related decisions up to the courts could be a dangerous move.